The University of Minnesota has started the big process of having players return to campus for voluntary workouts, and athletic director Mark Coyle said in an interview over e-mail last week that the school is taking every precaution to make sure student-athletes are safe and cared for while also getting back to athletics and academics.
“The health and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches and staff will always be our top priority,” Coyle said. “Our staff has spent the past several weeks preparing for our student-athletes to return to campus and has worked diligently to provide them with the safest environment possible. Our decision to bring students back to campus is supported by medical experts and leadership at the NCAA, Big Ten and on campus.
“Right now, we have our football student-athletes back and will soon have members of our soccer, volleyball and basketball teams on campus as well.”
Optimistic for fall
The list of athletic and medical experts the Gophers have to draw on is large because the University of Minnesota has such a well-respected academic roster and such a great relationship with the Big Ten.
Coyle said the ability to use that advice makes him believe that fall sports will be happening on campus.
“I am optimistic that we will be playing fall sports,” he said. “Our return-to-campus plan was led by Executive Associate Athletics Director Julie Manning, Senior Associate Athletics Director Joi Thomas and Medical Director Dr. Bradley Nelson,” Coyle said. “It contained input from Dr. Brian Hainline, who is the NCAA’s chief medical officer, as well as from the Big Ten Infectious Disease Committee, which is composed of 14 outstanding medical professionals — including Dr. Nelson — who have advised the Big Ten Conference and its athletic directors.
“Our plan also closely mirrors those being worked on by professional leagues, as we are fortunate to have the expertise of medical staff who are also advising professional teams. We also received consultation from Jill DeBoer, who is the deputy director of the University’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, and have worked with Dr. Alison Galdys, who is an assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases and International Medicine here on campus.”
Revenue streams key
Coyle said that his stance hasn’t changed when it comes to the very real possibility that sports may have to be cut from the athletic department if revenue keeps falling.
He said that’s a big reason why getting revenue sports back is huge for not just the Gophers but every other college athletic department. On top of that Coyle said the university has planned for every kind of financial scenario going forward.
“Our revenue-generating sports are extremely important to us, but our focus remains competing in every sport we sponsor this year,” he said. “There are still a lot of unknowns with regards to capacity at home games this year and how that will affect us, but we will be able to get through it. Our staff has mapped out multiple scenarios and has been preparing for each one.
“Several members of our executive staff and head coaches have taken voluntary pay reductions and our teams have been responsible in reducing their budgets as well.”
Coyle did say that the athletic department continues to get a great deal of support from University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel and Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren. And there’s no doubt the Big Ten Network will continue to be a huge part of the financial strength of the athletic department.
When it comes to getting back on campus and working with athletes, Coyle said, “I wish everyone was back yesterday.”
Honor to work on coalition
In a time when teams aren’t able to be together there’s no doubt that the Gophers found a way to grow closer as they dealt with the shutdown from the coronavirus and the civic protests around the death of George Floyd.
Coyle wrote about having several Gophers players and staff members being named to the Big Ten Anti-Hate and Anti-Racism Coalition.
“It’s an honor for myself and some of our head coaches, staff members and student-athletes to serve on this newly formed coalition,” he said. “Commissioner Warren visited our campus a few weeks before everything was halted and detailed his three core student-athletes tenets, which were mental health, financial literacy and voter registration. When he formed the Big Ten Anti-Hate and Anti-Racism Coalition, he spoke passionately about racism in our country and the different ways to change it. He mentioned that the most fundamental way was to make sure that people exercise their right to vote.
“This is an important initiative on our campus as well, not just for our student-athletes, but for all our students under the leadership of President Gabel.”
• WCHA Men’s Commissioner Bill Robertson reports that the conference is looking to add three teams for the 2021-22 season, including St. Thomas. The conference is dealing with the planned departure of Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State Mankato and Northern Michigan. The conference is also looking at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Lindenwood University in St. Louis, Arizona State and Long Island University.
• Vikings offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak on his impressions of second-year tight end Irv Smith Jr.: “Very impressed. That was a great pick by [General Manager] Rick Spielman. Irv was a young player coming out, very young, and the biggest thing for me is I just see so much upside watching Irv come into camp. We asked him to do a lot. I made him learn the F-position, hammers position, as well as high tight-end position. You watched throughout the course of the season, we called on Irv more and more. I think there’s a big, big upside here.”
• One player to keep an eye on as MLB prepares to start upa again is former Twins second baseman Brian Dozier, who signed a minor league deal with the Padres. With a shortened season, it may give a veteran like Dozier a much better chance of making the big-league club.
• The Twins’ free-agent list in 2021: catcher Alex Avila, utility players Marwin Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianza, designated hitter Nelson Cruz and pitchers Jake Odorizzi, Homer Bailey, Rich Hill, Jhoulys Chacin, Tyler Clippard and Trevor May.
• Coach Richard Pitino and the Gophers have offered a scholarship to guard Skyy Clark, one of the top college basketball prospects in the country for the Class of 2022. Clark’s father is Kenny Clark, a wide receiver with the Vikings from 2002 to’04, appearing in one game.